10 things to do in Washington, D.C. with kids

Hands-on museums and kid-friendly attractions are just a few reasons to plan your next family vacation in Washington, D.C.

10 things to do in Washington, D.C. with kids

PHOTO: courtesy of Kathryn Streeter

10 things to do with kids in Washington, DC

01National Portrait Gallery, Chinatown

A short stroll north of the National Mall on 7th Street will take you into the heart of Chinatown, where opposite the Capital One Arena, home of the 2018 National Hockey League Stanley Cup winners, sits the impressive National Portrait Gallery. The gallery offers various free classes and activities for children, including Portrait Story Days (Saturday and Sunday) and Open Studio (Friday). On Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m., discovery kits are available for check-out—they offer a great way to explore the gallery on your own terms. Be sure to stop by the Kogod Courtyard, lush with trees and plants, which provides a great place for parents to get off their feet while kids splash in the water scrim.  

10 things to do in Washington, D.C. with kidsPhoto: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

02Old Town, Alexandria

Catch a ride with Potomac Riverboat Company and head to Old Town, Alexandria, dubbed the “fun side of the Potomac,” where you’ll dock near the historic Torpedo Factory Art Center, which has been converted into artists’ workshops. Open to the public, the studios allow kids to peek inside to watch the artists at work. Next, make your way up historic King Street, filled with charming shops and restaurants, where you can treat the kids to Ben & Jerry’s ice cream before leisurely making your way back to the waterfront, where balloon artists, musicians and other acts liven up the atmosphere.

busy town with street car coming forwardPhoto: Courtesy of R. Kennedy


03Gravelly Point Park

Abutting the Ronald Reagan National Airport is a piece of grassy land, perfect for picnicking, playing Frisbee and, naturally, plane-spotting. Gravelly Point Park is a delightful treasure, offering a place to unwind while taking in the landscape. Kids will be dazzled watching planes take off and land overhead while parents take in the impressive view over the Potomac River.

large field with people standing and sitting in, while planes fly overheadPhoto: Courtesy of Shannon McKeon

04US National Arboretum

Just three miles from the US Capitol, the US National Arboretum will astonish your wee ones with 446 acres of protected land. Open and free to the public 364 days a year, the arboretum offers children’s programing, including Family Garden Days and Saturday Patch, spearheaded by the Washington Youth Garden to connect kids with nature by letting them explore the perennial, herb, azalea and bonsai collections. Kids can frolic in the open fields under the shadows of the original sandstone US Capitol columns, which were later replaced by larger marble supports in 1958.

children running through a dense gardenPhoto: Courtesy of Kathryn Streeter

05National Mall

The National Mall, a 2.3 mile stretch of grassy land connecting the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, is the spot for doing whatever your family enjoys, from flying kites to playing tag. For $3.50 US, younger children can take a spin on the Smithsonian Carousel. When tummies start to growl, head to the nearby food trucks lining 7th Street—they boast a smattering of traditional grub including Mediterranean, Korean and Peruvian cuisine, as well as easy-to-please options, like hotdogs, pizza and ice cream.

image of a CarouselPhoto: Courtesy of Smithsonian Carousel


06The Wharf

The Wharf is a newly developed D.C. destination replete with a kids’ splash park, live music venues, colourful bars and restaurants. It rightly boasts that it’s where D.C. meets the water. But if you care to be on the water, step it up a notch and join DCSail on a 65-foot schooner American Spirit for a three-hour sunset cruise to see D.C. by night. Pack snacks (and wine and beer for mom and dad) to enjoy while the sun sets. If you’re baseball fans, the Boating and Baseball excursion will bring your family a homerun with a sailing adventure that’s guaranteed to stoke your kids’ anticipation for the game at the National’s Park. Upon exiting the craft, the Captain will hand out tickets and perhaps bid you adieu with, “N-A-T-S Nats, Nats, Nats!” as you step ashore to head to the nearby ballpark.

boat on the waterPhoto: Courtesy of Tyler Reber

07Theodore Roosevelt Island

Unlike the Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt presidential monuments, Theodore Roosevelt’s is easy to miss because it’s located on its own island on the Potomac River. Theodore Roosevelt Island is a quiet place to enjoy nature—one of Roosevelt’s passions. Read America’s 26th president’s thoughts on Nature, State, Manhood and Youth, which have been carved into stone, before heading around the small (roughly 1.5 miles) island via Swamp Trail. Roosevelt would be happy to see the kids observing birds and other natural wildlife while traversing the boardwalk.

10 things to do in Washington, D.C. with kidsPhoto: Courtesy of Kathryn Streeter

08Sculpture Garden

Head to the Sculpture Garden fountain for a summer Jazz in the Park series, a festivity that successfully gathers locals and visitors, young and old. Pack your own picnic or indulge in the Argentina-style chicken sausage sandwiches ($9.50 US) or smoked brisket ($10 US) from the Pavilion Café’s outdoor stands. Arrive early so your little ones get a seat at the fountain where they can dip their toes in the water to the sound of the music. In the winter, the fountain is transformed into an ice rink, where kids can twirl around on skates for $8 US for an hour and a half.

a crowd of people sitting around a fountain with there toes in the waterPhoto: Courtesy of National Gallery


09Eastern Market, Capitol Hill

If you want to get a taste of local life, hang out at the vibrant Eastern Market, a neighbourhood tradition where fresh market produce, street music, prepared food and handmade craft stands abound on the weekend. You’ll be strolling shoulder-to-shoulder with the families of Capitol Hill, walking dogs and pushing strollers. If you’re already planning a visit to the US Capitol, Supreme Court or Library of Congress, consider folding the market into your schedule for the day.

busy market area, with people sitting at a cafePhoto: Courtesy of Andrew Lightman

10National Building Museum

Kids’ imaginations will be captured by the interactive Fun House exhibit at the National Building Museum. The house appears typical to the eye, but you’ll find each room built to test the imagination. In the backyard, kids can take a dip in the “pool,” an installation filled with thousands of plastic white balls. Finish your visit with some barbecue at D.C.’s Hill Country Backyard Barbecue on the museum’s west lawn. Be sure to check their event listings so you can catch fun events like the Sunday Fam Jam, which has a bouncy house for kids and craft brews for the parents.

side profile of a large brick buildingPhoto: Courtesy of Kathryn Streeter

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